Virgin Media reports wider Q4 losses

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LONDON -- U.K. cable giant Virgin Media said Thursday that its fourth-quarter net losses had widened to 163 million pounds ($324.4 million) from 122 million pounds ($242.8 million) last year on competitive pressures from rival British Sky Broadcasting and higher interest costs, its tenth straight quarter of losses.

Revenue over the period was down 3% at 1.05 billion pounds ($2.09 billion) as revenue per subscriber fell from 42.82 pounds ($85.21) to 42.24 pounds ($84.06) per month.

Virgin Media, in which entrepreneur Richard Branson is the biggest shareholder, has spent much of the past 18 months in a state of open warfare with BSkyB, which is 34% owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Last week, Virgin launched a legal bid aimed at forcing BSkyB to sell its 17.9% share in commercial broadcaster ITV completely. BSkyB has already been ordered to sell down the stake to under 7.5% by antitrust body the Competition Commission, but Virgin has filed an appeal stating that Sky would still retain "undue influence" with the minority share.

Last month acting CEO Neil Berkett conceded that Sky had won the market for premium television and said Virgin would focus instead on a combination of midrange television channels, high-speed broadband services and VOD archive television.

Over the fourth quarter, Virgin added 111,200 new broadband customers and 67,000 television customers, but analysts said that investors expected more growth.

"We believe management will soon need to shift its focus to growing the total customer base more aggressively," London-based J.P. Morgan Securities Ltd. analyst Jerry Dellis said in an investment note.
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